The Art of Giving Beta

“I understand that your beta works for you, and you’re going with it even if you’ve fallen from that same spot 32 times.”Chris Kalous on the Enormocast

Sometimes a silent confused expression and a spot are more helpful for your climber than telling him/her how you’d go about sending.

Knowing the beta can make or break a send. How are you supposed to find the magical hidden side-pull-bucket tucked away behind the arete onsight? Unless you’re very lucky or have watched a few videos of others sending the climb (no longer making your first attempt an onsight), you probably would need a helpful hint to find that money-bucket and send. However, as helpful as knowing the beta can be, one must remember that there are often multiple beta variations for routes and even many boulder problems. There is also an art to giving beta.

Here are two beta-giving pitfalls to avoid:

One: The Spray-Down
Please refrain from talking me though a climb from the moment I’ve finished my figure eight to when I clip the anchors. This is often referred to as a “spray-down.” I like discovering the holds and moves between them for myself, and chances are you are bigger and stronger and more into dynamic moves than me, so I won’t be able to use half of what you tell me. Now, if my goal is to get the flash and I ask you for a step-by-step run-through, that’s different; in that case, bring on the spray. However, if someone doesn’t ask for advice, let the climber figure out the route, and wait till (s)he asks for beta to offer up suggestions, or, at the very least, ask before beginning to unload your knowledge.

Two: The One-Beta-Fits-All
There rarely is only one way to send. When giving beta, offer it as a suggestion instead of the sole solution. Try phrasing your suggestions as questions: Have you tried throwing up a heal? Or say worked for you: I bumped to the jug from the sloping rail. This gives the climber options without making them feel like they have to use them to send. Do not command someone up the wall. Unless they are of identical build, strength, and skill level as you, this will likely prove quite frustrating to the climber (and you as well). As long as you are not projecting a blank 5.14, there are usually several options for sending.

One great example of alternate beta was Hazel Findlay sending Golden Gate, a 41-pitch 5.13b route on El Cap. She was warned that at 5’2” she would be shut down on the notoriously reachy 5.13 ‘Move Pitch’ because she wouldn’t be able reach the holds. Instead of attempting the same beta as her 6’2” climbing partner, she got creative and sent in her own style. Here is her recount of her beta for “the move” from Evening Sends.

“I climbed the lower section of 5.12a and reached the undercut from which you do the Move. I looked up. The next hold was farther away than the entire length of my body! But in the flow of the climbing I saw a faint sloper in between the two holds. I could only hold it with my right and if I got my left foot really high. But I could not match the sloper. This meant that instead of reaching the next hold as a side-pull, I was forced to do a huge cross over with my left hand and take the side pull as a gaston….It sort of dawned on me that I would have to match this horrible gaston and make it a side pull. …. After a few attempts I had reached a point where, I could kick my right foot up on a smear and, in a back-contorting position, ultimately match the hold. Then the next move—reaching the pocket—involved being completely stretched out in a totally off-balance position with foot movements that felt crazy hard.”

Beta can be helpful, but don’t let it limit you from finding your own way to the anchors. Just because you saw someone else climb a route one way doesn’t mean that is the easiest way for you to climb it; it’s just one way that one other person sent on one particular day. If you’re climbing 5.12 and below, chances are there is an intermediate somewhere to get you to the hold that’s slightly out of reach. Get creative and scan the rock for holds that aren’t caked in chalk or find new body positions to make your movements smoother. For me, part of the joy of climbing is discovering my own flow from the first to last bolt. Climb in a way that FEELS best for you—that’s your own “perfect” beta, and you should make sure to let other people find their ideal flow too.

Originally published January 13, 2015, on 

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